Mar 22, 2016

The Paradox of a Mother's Time

By Anna Ilona Mussmann

At night, I complain to my husband that all I want is time. Time to type the thoughts in my head and the novel in my notes, time to sew the projects I’ve pinned, time to organize the clothes. Time without a baby in one arm and a toddler industriously undoing my every-second action. He means so well, that kid. It’s a good thing he is also so darn cute.

Some days I claim that I failed to get anything done at all. It makes me restless, as if life is flowing by irretrievably and I am too bogged down with the weight of childcare to accomplish anything. Soon my time will be gone.

Yet in another sense, being a stay-at-home mother means that I have all the time in the world. My children force me to experience the minutes and seconds in a new way. We make granola together, and it takes forever. First, I wait while the toddler fetches and gathers the measuring cups. Opening the drawer requires deliberation. Selecting the right items is not swift when he must stand on tip-toe to peer in. Later he must, of course, do the stirring. That takes a good long while. Even clean-up is not hasty, because who licks the molasses off the spoon in a hurry? Molasses is good stuff.

The things we do are done together, and that forces me to wait and watch and think. The socks are put away individually. The yard work is done in brief spurts while the baby is willing to sit on a blanket. If an adult without children lived at the pace of my life, she would no doubt be on vacation in the Bahamas. I try to remind myself that I live a life of leisure.  

In the midst of this paradox of having all the time in the world and yet not nearly enough of it, the real issue is whether or not the things I do matter. If the clock stopped ticking, would my work--my tortuously leisurely, child-smudged labors--have been worthwhile enough to compensate for the more adult things I never managed to do?

The majority of what I do is, simply, living. I live with my kids. We eat, we clean, we learn good manners, we plant doomed seeds in over-watered pots, we read stories and say prayers. We guard nap time with the zeal of a thousand dragons. Is that worth a decade of my life?

It’s deceptive, because my children could grow older without nearly as much of my time. Who will know, years from now, whether they would have turned out just as well if I stuck them in daycare and did something other than make granola and drive to story hour at the library? We cannot know. That is why my life is built on the trust that whatever the answer is, it is good that I am at home.

The thing is, parenting must be built on trust. After all, without the willingness to act on what we cannot prove, how would any of us dare to have children in the first place? How could we decide that we were capable of rearing vulnerable human beings? Of taking on the responsibility for someone who would not otherwise exist? Of being a father or a mother?

All we can do is believe in what we know and risk the rest. Love is good. Family is not only good, but also the creation of a good God who said that it is not good for man to be alone, and that a husband and wife should “go forth and multiply.” Therefore, I will love these little beings with whom I am entrusted, and I will teach them how to make breakfast cereal.

It is a privilege to have this opportunity, to be the person who sees the baby first start scooting and to be the one who teaches the toddler to obey, and in my trust--my gamble--I can only seize it with gratitude.

I never have enough time. Yet I will give my time to my children, and I will pray that in His mercy, our Lord will bless what we do together.  


After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their two small children. Anna's neglected personal blog is Don't Forget the Avocados and her work can also be found in The Federalist.

Image: "Mother About to Wash Her Sleepy Child," Mary Cassatt, 1880


  1. Wonderful article. Thank you.

  2. We have five children, the youngest almost 18 now. We homeschooled for 14 years. At one point early in our homeschooling adventure I was frazzled, feeling pulled apart in too many directions, wanting to get something more done. I don't remember now if I said it out loud or not, but I said/thought "These children are sure interrupting my work." Into my mind the Holy Spirit whispered "These children ARE your work." Whoa, instant perspective change. I think it was about that time that my husband and I decided that our children were on an eighteen to nineteen year training program and that we could exercise more patience with them. That little change (or big change) helped us get through the years successfully with all our children. Choosing to be a wife and mother is a valid career choice that means almost all our creative energy is put into making home a safe haven from the world and teaching and training the next generation to be followers of Christ, productive citizens, and to find their talents and improve them to be useful in the world. There is little instant gratification in this chosen career, but the long term benefits are marvelous!

    1. I especially like your point about taking the long (18-19 year) view.

  3. Great article! The season of life with little ones seems to have passed by quickly; however, when all my children were little, the time seemed to go by slowly. I agree with what Rozy said that the long term benefits are marvelous, now that are children are growing up. When my kids were all little, I remember telling myself that God would give me the time I needed to do what NEEDED to get done (not necessarily what I WANTED to get done). Like you said, Ilona, it is about trusting God with the big picture (that what were are doing is worthwhile), as well as with the little things (why can't I find the time/money to buy a decent outfit for the next wedding or anniversary celebration I have been invited to???). I now have to remind myself now as I am helping older homeschooled kids with harder academics that God will help us get through the necessary subjects and that I will be able to help each child and manage the home, take care of my health, etc. It is easy for me to forget that God does provide, and that He is faithful (even though that doesn't always look the way I expect).

    1. Sometimes it's hard to be totally honest about need vs. want. :-) Thanks for the encouraging words.

  4. I'm experiencing this same paradox right now, as I hold the 2 week old and listen to my 2 year old play. Thanks for the reminders that our time is now to mother!


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